Syria and the regional sectarian war
The more active stance taken by Hezbollah and Iran in the Syrian civil war made the Turkish government angry and triggered a series of reckless sect-oriented statements. Both at the beginning of and during the conflict, the government declared that theirs was not a Sunni perspective, they did not want a sectarian war in the region and they will never be a part of such a war. But as the civil war continues and the regional polarization deepens, the sectarian preferences and attitudes became more visible.
Bashar al-Assad’s consolidation of power before the Geneva conference and the slow pace of the responses from the U.S. and other Western governments are getting on the Turkish government’s nerves. Lacking initiative, the government is reacting ideologically and emotionally.
Hezbollah’s increasing visibility in the war causes controversy. Still, it is beyond doubt that they made al-Assad stronger. This factor indicates the spillover risks of the conflict, especially in terms of sectarian divisions.
It was obvious that both the al-Assad regime and the armed opposition would try to consolidate their positions before the Geneva conference. The al-Assad front acted quickly and used time more efficiently. But the Sunni Arab/Turkish and Western friends of the opposition are still clumsy and disorganized. They are wasting time, the most valuable factor of the process.
Iran and Hezbollah are determined, quick and synchronized. They are strengthening al-Assad’s pre-Geneva position in military as well as economic, psychological and diplomatic terms. For instance, Iran will most probably share its experience in the delaying tactics of nuclear negotiations with the Syrian administration and hint at the utilization of negotiations as a time-saving strategic arena. Hezbollah, on the other hand, will share its experience of “urban fights” against Israel and continue to reinforce al-Assad. Overall, Iran, as the leader of the Shiite axis, is taking the Syria and Lebanon fronts very seriously.
For centuries, Turkey has not been this involved in the business of leading the Sunni front. Although the government still claims that it is not involved, reality differs. The majority of Turkish public opinion does not agree. They are neither content with the government’s Syria and Iran policies, nor happy with Turkey’s continuing involvement in this conflict.
It will take long years to resolve this crisis. In the meantime, Iran, Hezbollah and Israel might get involved in different scenarios and conflicts. Turkey will certainly face serious challenges, but in order to deal with them, it will first and foremost have to abandon the age-old sectarian perspective.